What makes children successful in life long before they start school? It starts with your health.
Healthy development – regardless of the outcome of a child’s birth – begins early in life with timely and regular access to affordable health insurance and care, screening, therapy and treatment; healthy brain development; stability in housing and food access; and much more. If you focus on children’s health early in life, they are more likely to reduce their healthcare costs as they grow into adults.
Children are not born to take care of themselves. If we want children to be successful from the start, we must focus on making sure their families are successful and thriving too. The health of parents and caregivers is important to the health of their children.
You may have heard the term “social determinants of health” before, a collection of factors that also affect the ability and likelihood to be healthy. A strong family support system has a positive impact on their ability to access and make optimal use of health services. Critical public programs such as housing, access to food and resources, childcare, and transportation services should be prioritized and supported by policymakers. Too often we see resistance from the Kansas legislature to make these programs accessible to families.
The health of children and their families directly impacts their ability to go to school, work, and participate in their communities, yet Kansas legislators haven’t done nearly enough to support policies that improve everyone’s health outcomes Kansans will improve. We don’t fund and prioritize the systems that help children – and their families. If people want our children to be successful and grow up healthy, we need to change our priorities and focus our energy on solutions.
We all want the people in our communities to have the healthcare they need. But health begins with insurance access and affordability, which is a major hurdle for far too many Kansans.
About 38,000 children in Kansas are uninsured, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation. This is a barrier preventing parents from providing their children with the care they need, such as regular check-ups and vaccinations.
Currently, Kansas parents earning less than 38% of the federal poverty line (only $8,760 per year for a family of three) may qualify for KanCare. But if the same family’s income is between $8,761 and $23,030 (100% federal poverty line for a family of three), the adults do not qualify for KanCare or premium assistance in the federal insurance exchange.
Although 39 other states (plus the District of Columbia) are expanding their Medicaid programs, the Kansas Legislature still refuses to expand KanCare, which would provide tens of thousands of Kansans with access to coverage. This would remove an ever-growing obstacle for many parents: earning too much to qualify but not enough to access insurance themselves.
All Kansans deserve proper health care, regardless of income, race, zip code, identity, or ability. However, major disparities between races and ethnic groups and in rural areas persist, particularly in relation to infant and maternal mortality and health complications. Kansas must support, enact, and fund policies that examine disparities in health outcomes and prevent those adverse outcomes through targeted public health policies.
Increasing postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to 12 months was an important first step by Kansas legislation earlier this year, but Kansas also needs to continue investing in maternal and child health infrastructure and services like local health departments invest Tiny-K program and newborn screening.
New and veteran lawmakers will return to the Statehouse in January. Kansas children—and their future health and development—count on these policymakers to make Kansas a place where every child can reach their best potential.
Heather Braum is the Public Health Advisor for Kansas Action for Children.